2020 July

Collage for July 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this July 2020

And so we moved into July, with summer, and all that usually implies. But it is month 5 of lock-down, and we were still rewriting what we mean by ‘normal life’.

I had been driving regularly since May, re-learning (or remembering) the skills, and gradually building up the muscles and the stamina that I need to drive. From a few miles from the the village I built up the distance I could comfortably drive.
So, on July 1st I made my first trip to Inverurie and back, to take glass to the recycling point at Morrison’s supermarket. That’s a round trip of over 30 miles – so I was well pleased!
Throughout July I drove through rain, low cloud, poor visibility and a growing level of general traffic. It took a toll on my energy (which is always limited by PVS/ME) and that meant there was little left on many days. I drove early in the morning, to minimise the heavy traffic and farm vehicles on the roads, and often needed a cat-nap mid morning.

car key
The key to more than my car!

But it was (and still is) essential that I can drive again. Other options such as taxis and lifts from neighbours are no longer possible in Covid times, and public transport has always been virtually non-existent in rural Aberdeenshire. So, with the increased vulnerablity to life-threatening infection that we both face, I can’t afford not to be practiced, skilled, confident and proficient once more! Although my little Fiesta is 12 years old now, it is the key to my freedom, and ability to function in times of need.

pink rhododendron
First shots with the Helios lens on the Canon 70D – pink rhododendron

At home the summer was blooming with the the garden full of flowers. I always shoot the rhododendrons as they bloom in sequence, the white first, then the red, and finally the one small bush of pink. My attention was still focussed on the Canon 70D and the problems of shooting in Manual Mode with only an Optical Viewfinder. I decided to concentrate on the garden and immediate surroundings, as I could keep going indoors to read the LCD screen and try to find the right balance of settings to stop over-exposing or under-exposing my shots. It made for slow and frustrating sessions with a large failure rate! I knew I had to master the Manual Mode for the in-camera multiple exposures I wanted to achieve, so I continued to use the old Russian Helios 44-2 lens. After all it was one the lenses I wanted to use (along with the Lensbaby) so I might as well stay with it!
The shot above was taken close to the house, using the Helios lens, and I think it was the 4th attempt at getting the exposure right!

The most wonderful aspect of July was that finally National Trust Scotland opened up their gardens again! After months struggling to find anywhere to walk, we could return to Fyvie Castle grounds! A real breath of fresh air, bringing a sense of optimism and freedom.

sunshine in the park
Fyvie Castle grounds, and freedom to enjoying the summer sunshine!

Here, shot with my iPhone, a boy lying contentedly on the lawn in the sunshine! It seemed to sum up our feelings of relief and delight! The grounds were sadly neglected, and it will take years to repair the damage the lock-down inflicted. But these lawns close to the castle had been mowed, and it was a joy to see them and walk our familiar routes round the small loch!
Later in the month we drove up the coast to Cullen.

Cullen beach
Cullen beach on a bright but cold morning. Freedom from lock-down at last!

And climbed up the cliffs above Cullen bay to see way across towards the Moray Firth. Just visible in the distance is a blue shape on the horizon – the far hills across the Firth!

The view across Cullen Bay
On the cliffs above Cullen Bay – such a sense of freedom!

It was this we had been pining for! We never meet many people on our rambles with our cameras. So with open air and so few possibilities for encountering the virus, we felt that it had been misguided to deprive us of exercise and a sense of well-being! The months of absence and deprivation had impressed on us how essential these outings are to us. We were both quite exhausted after each visit. How quickly our muscles weakened even when we had had our own garden to walk in. What must it have been like for those trapped in small flats in tenements or high rise blocks!
July gave us back some joy and delight, and through the joy came some hope.

And a final look back on July must include the onward progress towards my watercolour painting goals! I had started by copying Cezanne watercolours. I found about his customary palette of just 6 colours, and the few brushes he used. I was making progress! But now I wanted to expand the colours I used, to paint trees closer to Scotland’s palette rather than southern France! So I took out all the paints (tubes and pans) that I had acquired years ago. And I found I needed to re-learn everything … the names on the pans had faded. And I couldn’t remember the properties of the colours – were they translucent? opaque? staining?

watercolour paints and charts
Beginning to organise my watercolours!

So I had to spend time online researching, and I discovered that the range of watercolour tints and types had changed and developed massively! So I began to familiarise myself with the colours I had, and added a few more too. It was a re-learning experience in itself …. and there was more to come in August too ….

On to August ……
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2020 June

collage for June 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this June 2020

So June came – month 4 of the lock-down. Not seeing family and friends was not too bad, as we are scattered, so the phone, email and Facebook activity were our main ways of staying in touch. What we missed most of all was the freedom to go and walk by the sea, and in the grounds of the local National Trust Scotland sites, along with Historic Scotland and others. We live in the middle of farming land, where there is nowhere for humans to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Walking a potato field is not fun!

walking in the woods
Trying to find alternatives to our regular exercise/walking

Trying to find alternatives to our regular sites for exercise and fresh air became a preoccupation as the weeks of Lock-down stretched out. It’s surprising how quickly your muscles become weaker with little or no regular exercise!

Sunshine through the trees in infrared
Sunshine through the hillocks and trees in infrared

I took cameras with me wherever we went, and captured the hillocks and difficult terrain in infrared and colour too ….

view through the trees
Still searching for a place to exercise!

Another inhospitable location … difficult to walk without keeping your eyes firmly on the ground beneath your feet, as the danger of spraining or breaking your ankles was very real!
I don’t think the decision to close down the GROUNDS of the National Trust properties in rural areas like ours was a wise one. The grounds were never crowded, and they provided essential spaces for essential exercise! Even with a garden, our health was being impacted by the closing of places to walk safely!

Indoors I was having more fun, and success as I continued developing my painting. I wanted to use some of the thousands of landscape photos I have taken over the years. I don’t think I could ever find the energy and stamina to paint outdoors, so I have to rely on the photographs I take together with the memory of the observations I make at the time of shooting. So my starting point was the trees that are all around us here. It chimed perfectly with Cezanne, whose watercolours include many tree studies!
I started by using some of my infrared shots, as they can give the clearest definition of the architecture of the tree, the ‘bones’ that you often don’t see until winter strips away the leaves. Infrared reduces the foliage to white areas … which I could then paint in from memory or imagination. The idea worked quite well – but I didn’t like my attempts at the foliage!! But then I had an idea. How about putting the IR and painted pictures together, rather than just throwing my watercolour away? I had already used this technique to blend together several photographic images … how about using this technique to create such blends?

blending painting and photography
My first experiment blending painting and photography.

My first blending experiment gently wove the colours from the painting with the original infrared shot. So I pursued the idea – whenever I came across a Cezanne image that reminded me of a local scene, I tried to merge them. Here an avenue of trees at Fyvie Castle echoed an avenue of trees close to Ceazanne’s home in Aix.

blending paint and photo
My sketch based on Cezanne’s avenue, together with a photo from Fyvie

OK – a very amateurish watercolour sketch! But I liked the idea of weaving the images together!

The other ‘newcomer’ during these pandemic months has been the purchase of a Canon camera. I’m a Sony fan, and most of my cameras are Sony – so getting a Canon, even an ‘old’ EOS 70D was a big step for me. Learning the onboard computer was the biggest challenge I foresaw. There would be a learning curve, especially as I wanted to use it Manual Mode. My plan was to be able to create multiple exposure images within the camera itself. This is something Sony have not developed! So I set about learning my new camera.
I shot first of all on Auto, with the kit lens. Just shooting from the front door, looking out along the path into the garden was my first step. I then took some of the shots and blended them together in Photoshop, to get the feel of how in-camera multiple exposure might look..

3 layer image of lockdown
using the Canon 70D and layering shots

As I looked at the result I realised I had (unconsciously) summed up the feelings of lock-down.

Next I moved on Manual Mode, and attached one of the lenses I wanted to use – an old Russian Helios lens that can give wonderful colours and bokeh effects. And this when I really stepped into foreign country!
All my Sony cameras use EVF, Elecrontic Veiw Finder. I hadn’t even heard of the alternative, the OVF or Optical View Finder. But WOW! was I about to discover what OVF means in practice!
Briefly with EVF I look through the view-finder and see what the result of my shot will look like. I can adjust the settings to make everything just how I want it to look, from focus to colour and light. What I see is what I will get! But the OVF just shows you what your eye is already seeing …. NOT what the shot you take will look like! You can adjust the focus – but otherwise you are ‘flying blind’. I found myself having to take a shot, look at it, adjust the settings and try again, and again, and again – before I could take the photo I wanted.
Imagine that you are walking down a tree-lined path, with dappled light, moving from strong sunshine into quite deep shade. With EVF I would simply look and adjust the image I see until I get an optimal balance of light values before taking the shot. Maybe 15 seconds to set and reset the camera. With OVF it takes me much longer and several test shots before I can take the final shot. No way to catch a fleeting light effect, to capture a swan suddenly coming in to land on the water! It felt like regressing to a much slower and clumsier age of photography!
Whether I want to shoot using the kit lens, or a specialist lens the problem is the same – to take multiple exposures I need to work in Manual Mode. So the problem remains. I need to shoot regularly and keep refining my skills and speed to reach my goal of making in-camera multiple shots!

On to July and a lifting of some restrictions!
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